Our enemies are sacred, too.
From age 17 through 25 I worked for a cause bigger than my self. At times I worked tirelessly, sometimes going 70 or more days straight without a break, seemingly always on call, available for the greater good. I lived the Christian life. I lived the idealized Christian life. I worked to save the world, as I thought at the earlier end.
These years were some of the most rewarding periods of my life. I have so many fond memories of those moments and the bonds that were formed with those around me. At times it felt like brothers at arms, fighting a battle with an invisible force. At others we were exhausted travelers, carrying each other forward through another emotional week.
Something, however, felt stifling. It took me years after leaving a position in full time ministry to place that feeling. I just felt compelled to go, an action that caused pain for so many, including myself. I was young, immature, and not aware of the mechanisms that were required to verbalize the feeling that I was pushing against a wall that refused to budge. I would push, but there was nowhere to push.
So I left. For several years after I would duck in and out of services at various denominations. I was burned out on religious music and wrestled with feelings of anger around the language of faith. I kept an awkward toe plunged in while the rest of me was desperate for something that was missing.
Its strange to speak of something missing. I undoubtedly heard hundreds of sermons about how when you become a Christian your life would be complete. Everything in life just suddenly would come together and you would find joy by default. But I was raised this way. I didn’t know anything else. And what I felt wasn’t joy.
The truth is that I led a double life. I was not fully honest and did not know how to reconcile this. I felt an intuition that I needed something else and both denounced the intuition in public while satisfying my curiosity at home. I read and read and read. I read broadly in the sciences and nearly every meaningful text I could find. I asked questions that produced answers that caused anxiety. But yet nearly every word was like water for my curious soul.
But lets back up slightly and bring in the context of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. I had three friends at my conservative Christian school who I knew were gay. One I flatly asked once why he would choose to be gay. He laughed nervously and got a little emotional. He told me that his father, a pastor, disowned him. His childhood friends would not speak to him. Worst of all, potentially, he hated that he was gay. His eyes got misty as he looked away while the worst treatments undoubtedly played out in his mind’s eye.
I was stunned. Growing up as I did it wouldn’t have occurred to me that this could be the case. I could not imagine having my family and friends turn against me so abruptly and harshly. The pain would be overwhelming.
The word Christian, for all of its potentially positive connotations, has a bad rap. This isn’t because Satan is sneaking around in dark shadows influencing evil men to create propaganda. The people I’ve met who have cringed most when hearing the word do so because they either received disproportionally horrible treatment from self-professed Christians or know a close friend or family member who has. And we aren’t talking someone with a “Jesus is my copilot” bumper sticker cut them off driving. We are talking the kind of hurt and pain described in the story above. For a group using the word love as often as is thrown around in Christian circles, know that it is not felt or experienced to the level that you think outside of the Church. In fact, outside of the select ministries making a big difference in their community – and there are wonderful organizations doing this – many have only had a negative interaction with the church.
I have now spent a decade distanced from the church thinking about the causes of the great separation between culture and Christianity. Part, I believe, is simply world view. It is interesting that psychologically the Bible itself is seen as a closed book. There was a period in which it was written and sometimes rewritten and added to and built upon and then… it just stopped. It was considered finished. No more. And then now you can easily say what is right and what is wrong. You can label easily and, with the right translation and notes, judge with both authority and simplicity.
With yesterday’s announcement I have read so many posts both celebrating and condemning the action. Condemnations have ranged from urging Christians to not give up hope to one who saw a second civil war coming soon. A second civil war! Why are you so afraid? What has the gay community done to you? What is so tremendously evil and terrible about two consenting adults sharing legal identification and partaking in a rich and varied cultural tradition? Despite the commonly held stance, Christianity neither owns nor has invented marriage any more than it has eating or building a house. And what does this condemnation have anything to do with the kind of practice you see presented by Jesus in the Bible?
This was exactly my struggle a decade ago. I could not seem to reconcile the language with the ideology. I was told that God was huge, beyond reason and belief. But then I was told that the nature of what was acceptable and believable was limited, that the entire universe stretching to more galaxies than there are sands in all the oceans of the earth was merely created for awe alone, to be experienced as simply proof. GALAXIES. Each with billions of stars and planets. And all of this was created for something like a 6,000 year span of time in which it popped up on command and then moved on to destruction. And why? Because that’s what the Bible says, and the Bible as it is interpreted says it is the word of God and God can’t lie, ergo thats just the deal so get over it. So this is great for the chosen (“elect”) while being incredibly, awe-inspiringly terrible for pretty much everything else in the universe.
I believe that Christianity has put God in a box and placed that box in a safe that can not be opened. The true expanse and even logical culmination of what is said is juxtaposed with how the belief is expressed:
- You say God is eternal, but view the lines of history as closed to only that which is expressly written and interpreted correctly; and selectively so at best.
- You say God is powerful, but judge the world around you, shocked when culture moves in a direction different than your ideals all the while saying that God is in charge. But God clearly can’t be a God of change… expect for that part where Jesus came and kind of threw a big wrench in the prevailing structure of the time. Just that once was ok.
- You say God is boundless, yet you restrict the realm of the possible to only certain, specific criteria already believed and rationalized by theologians a few hundred years ago.
- You say God is omniscient, yet go into defensive mode when prayers don’t persuade the Supreme Court or alter the votes of a presidential nominee from an unapproved political party.
- You say God is is a trinity, unified together. As a Christian, Jesus is inside of you guiding your actions, yet no two sects… whoops, “denominations”, have the same exact theology.
Instead, I propose some basic ideas taken directly from Jesus that might help form the backbone of a new theology that isn’t going to crash into culture like a rogue wave against a seawall or restrict the idea of a God that is bigger than theology could hold.
- Love those who make you uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean Ill love them but I don’t have to agree. It isn’t about you, its about those you are told to love. This means do good to them, not criticizing them in social media while telling lies about loving them on Sunday mornings. Open your heart. Your enemies are people too.
- Practice compassion. I don’t meant just handing out blankets once a year or collecting food, though those are good thing. Go to the people everyone else in your community despises. When Jesus showed compassion, you got the sense that he felt their suffering deeply. He was like one with their pain.
- Stop judging. This is fundamental and absolutely challenging. This is an active role. You are not the judge. Stop it. No wishy-washy qualifiers. No “I read the end of the story and know God’s heart”. You can not say that you are nothing compared to the mind of God and then proceed to say you understand it.
- Stop assigning sin. Related to the last one. Its not your job. Do your best to do the right thing and leave the judgement to something greater than yourself.
- Walk the narrow gate. The popular vote wasn’t the right one in Jesus time. Why do you think it would be now? Judging from the example of Jesus, shouldn’t mass religious agreement be a good indicator that there’s something missing? We can sing all day about Pharisees or Sadducees, but from the outside, it seems a little too coincidental.
- Watch out for wolves and be wise, always on the lookout. Wolves are everywhere. If, say, a political candidate gets teary eyed talking about his or her faith, there’s a chance they know that its the fastest route to your vote. Its not hard to convince a church audience (sorry, but its true and has to be said). You just need to talk the talk, throw out a joke, critique the approved common foe, and BAM: instant credibility. There are many, many people in position of leadership in government and churches with huge holes in their hearts that they will forever be patching with ego. This isn’t everyone. But they are out there and you should be very, very careful about who you trust.
- Ask questions. Between the answers are questions. Jesus asked questions and questions were asked of him. These were not validating questions but the ones that you have to walk away and consider for days, weeks, months, or longer. Start with the idea that you do not know and see where this takes you. What impressed the temple priests being chatted up by a young Jesus? They were impressed by his questions. And for the record, “well, thats just what we believe” is not an acceptable answer.
- Be careful about predictions. If you must believe in some kind of eschatological, end time scenario, fine. But know this, if you believe the Bible to be true, where it says that no one will know the day or the hour… yea. Live it then. And beyond the end of the world alone, life is unpredictable. Causality is very, very difficult to ascertain. So saying a decision will bring about the destruction of America is not something even the best minds will be prepared to answer.
- Know your place. Consider for a moment that you don’t know the story, that the book in your hand is just a very, very small piece of a greater idea, that God is bigger and wider and more unknowable than theology and minds can comprehend. Consider that you are in fact the tiny speck of life on a small planet in a solar system on one arm of one of billions of galaxies in a universe that is finite yet unbounded. Better yet, know that this is 100% true, because it is. The Bible seen as a unified document today was compiled over thousands of years, a story that was constantly in development during this time. At one point we put a back cover on it and said it was complete. But the story continues, and like many of the values expressed at different times, we are different than 1st century Judea. And that’s ok.
- If it doesn’t hurt, if it doesn’t require sacrifice in your heart, you aren’t doing it right.
Let me propose to you that the spiritual union you feel with your spouse is unique to you. The act of marriage, however, is universal, not limited to Christianity and never limited to just one man and one woman – not even in the Bible. Take a quick scan of historical and anthropological records around marriage and you will find a variety of terms and practices such as polygamy, polyandry, arranged, ghost, endogamy, exogamy, hypogamy, and hypergamy. My personal favorite is polyandrous linguistic exogamy where a woman takes more than one husband, but they must speak different native languages to avoid the incest taboo. Why does the will of God have to be so homogenous? Why didn’t God create just one type of rock, one species of animal, and just one planet?
You matter. But how you matter, the legacy you leave, is up to you. Do you follow your impulses and blame the outside world for the trouble or uncomfortability that is upon you? Do you follow the crowd and jump on the bandwagon? Do you look at a single granted right, such as same sex marriage, in a country we find pride in declaring as free, as the culmination of a growing evil? Or, do you, as Jesus suggested, take up your cross, do the thing that is painful and unnatural, and try something different? Why don’t you look for problems on your end, fix your mistakes, and change your community for the better? There are a million real needs in the world that could really use all of our collective help. You can sit and moan on Facebook about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket or get out there and push your values, beliefs, and actions to the breaking point to see what meaning and truth there is to find.